Lions end winless streak with 2-1 victory over Yemen
|(Nasser Al-Gahwashi 85)
|(Ikhsan Fandi 19, Hafiz Nor 52)
On the eve of Singapore’s World Cup qualifier against Yemen, coach Tatsuma Yoshida pulled no punches.
Speaking to The New Paper, he called the clash a must-win match for his side.
It did not matter that he would be without three key players, Faris Ramli, Shakir Hamzah and Shawal Anuar, for a variety of reasons.
It did not matter that Yemen were ranked No. 141 in the world and Singapore No. 159.
And it certainly did not matter to Yoshida that Singapore were going into the match on the back of a four-game winless streak.
He threw down the gauntlet to his Lions.
And on Tuesday night (Nov 19), his charges rose to the challenge with an emphatic roar as they saw off Yemen with a 2-1 win at Al Muharraq Stadium in Bahrain to put their qualifying campaign back on track.
The Group D fixture was played at a neutral venue due to the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
Singapore’s last away victory against a higher-ranked Middle-Eastern team was during a World Cup qualifier in 2008 when the Lions won 2-1 in Beirut against Lebanon.
While it was Yemen who dominated proceedings in the opening 20 minutes, forcing Izwan Mahbud into two crucial saves, the Lions would take the lead in stunning fashion through their front man Ikhsan Fandi.
Ikhsan met Shahdan Sulaiman’s 19th-minute corner with a stupendous first-time volley from just inside the box, which left the Yemen goalkeeper with no chance.
Ikhsan, 20, has firmly established himself as the Lions’ main striker with eight goals in 18 appearances.
The lead, against the run of play, spurred them into action as they looked to finish the half stronger than they had begun it.
In the next attack, Ikhsan had a golden chance to net again from a Hafiz Nor cross but his header from just metres out sailed just over the bar.
In Singapore’s first group clash against the same opponents at the National Stadium in September, Ikhsan had also given the Lions the lead, only for the game to end in a draw.
Well aware of this, Yoshida, would have urged his side at half-time to get the second goal to kill off the tie.
It showed as well, with the Lions eager to go on the front foot after the break.
The away side were duly rewarded in the 52nd minute, courtesy of Hafiz’s first goal for the national team, in his sixth cap.
The Home United winger found enough space and time on the left flank to cut inside his defender and curl a brilliant strike from just outside the box.
The strike evaded the reach of goalkeeper Salem Saeed and nicked the post before nestling in the net.
But it was to be a jittery end to the game for the Lions, after Yemen pulled one back in the 85th minute through Nasser Al-Gahwashi.
Played through by a defence-splitting pass from midfield, Nasser rounded Izwan before slotting into an empty net.
The goal meant that the Lions have kept just one clean sheet – against Jordan last month – since Yoshida took over in May.
But the Lions stayed firm to get the crucial three points.
Said Yoshida: "I am really happy to get this good result for the Singapore fans. We said it was a must-win and it is important that we got it.
"It’s been a long time since we won in the Middle East. The result for some people may be surprising but it is not a surprise for me.
"The boys have shown great attitude and I trust them. But we are still improving and try to make another step up.
"We showed that we could win even without some important players. The others stepped up and proved themselves. This was one of the best performances but not the best. We must always try to win no matter where we play. We have to keep on going."
With this victory, Singapore are now third with seven points after five matches, two adrift of group leaders Uzbekistan – who beat Palestine 2-0 yesterday
The Lions will next face Palestine and Saudi Arabia in March next year.
YEMEN: Salem Saeed, Ahmed Sadeq, Mudir Abdurabu, Mufeed Gamal, Mohammed Boqshan, Nasser Al-Gahwashi, Ahmed Al-Sarori, Omar Al-Dahi, Abdulwasea Al-Matari, Ahmed Maher (Essam Al-Worafi 56), Emad Mansoor (Ali Hafeedh 67)
SINGAPORE: Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Hafiz Nor (Iqram Rifqi 75), Yasir Hanapi (Hami Syahin 88), Hazzuwan Halim (Khairul Nizam 53), Ikhsan Fandi